At the last conclave, the main African contender was Nigeria’s Francis Cardinal Arinze
. Now, at the age of eighty, Arinze is too old to be considered seriously. This puts Ghana’s Peter Cardinal Turkson next in line as Africa’s most serious papabile
Peter Kodow Appiah Turkson is sixty-four years old. He was born in Western Ghana to a Methodist mother who sold vegetables in the local market and a Catholic father who worked as a carpenter.
Cardinal Turkson was described in London’s The Tablet as one of Africa’s most energetic Catholic leaders. He is a charming and engaging man with a frank manner and a lively sense of humor. He communicates ably and openly with the media – so much so that he is accused of campaigning for the papacy because he has entertained the idea to a reporter in an interview.
Turkson has a strong background in diocesan governance and has accumulated good experience in the Curia during his time in Rome. He is clear of scandal and takes a strong conservative stance on doctrinal and moral issues while doing so with intelligence, clarity and good humor.
What would a Turkson papacy look like? First of all, and most importantly, it would immediately shift the center of the Church’s attention from Europe and the developed world. Attention would be centered away from Western obsessions like sexual scandals, financial skullduggery and Vatican infighting. As the world looked to Poland and Eastern Europe with John Paul II, Catholics would immediately start paying more close attention to the needs and strengths of Africa and the developing world.
At the same time, it would put all of the Church’s Western media critics off balance. Those who are left of center might be instinctively drawn to the notion of an African Pope, but they would also be dismayed to find that he holds to orthodox Catholic values.
Turkson would give the Church a new face and a new message, reminding the world that the concerns of the burgeoning continent of Africa are the concerns of the young and therefore the concerns of tomorrow’s world. While looking to the future, Turkson would also firmly uphold the Church’s positions on sexual morality and doctrine.
There is also the possibility that he would bring a fresh and lively dimension to liturgical worship, importing or at least allowing the dynamic African styles of worship, preaching and praise to find their way into the mainstream. He would also challenge the developed world’s economic presuppositions.
Finally, with a Muslim uncle in his family, and the ever-real conflict between Islam and Christianity fermenting across Africa, Turkson would bring the Muslim problem to the forefront of the Church’s concerns.
An African pope like Cardinal Turkson would mean a revolutionary shift in the Church’s center of gravity. It would be a papacy of youthfulness, dynamism, hope and a return to the core principles and priorities of the Church: the proclamation of the gospel to a needy world.
In this way, ironically, an African Pope may do more to re-evangelize Europe and North America than a Pope from the developed world. The dramatic shift in awareness and renewal of priorities might just wake up the Western world, which is sated with materialism, confused by relativism and despairing in its decadence and self absorption.
Such a choice would require the cardinal electors to take a huge risk and present the world with a stunning surprise, but if the history of the papacy has taught us one thing, it is that it is an institution full of surprises.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s latest book is Catholicism, Pure and Simple. Connect with his blog and browse his books at dwightlongenecker.com.